As you may recall from an earlier post, a friend of mine, Brian, has been struggling to get some control over his sex addiction.
I had referred him to a number of clinics that treat sex-addiction specifically, and to Sex Addicts Anonymous (sometimes known as sexaholics anonymous) as a starting point. I’m not at all surprised that he hasn’t followed up with either of these for now, since his addiction has only recently become an issue he recognizes and though the costs are obvious, they’re not staggering, yet.
The concept of addiction to sex is relatively recent (see 1st citation, in 1991). Still, it’s relationship to substance-use and dependence in terms of predictors, determinants, and progression have been mentioned from the very beginning and are still being examined today.
The issue for most people here is the absence of any drug that’s being taken in, which makes them doubt the validity of looking at the two conditions as one.
In my earlier posts on the pharmacological actions of cocaine and meth, I talked about how it is that those drugs activate that neural systems that control rewards in ways that are unnatural. There is little doubt that the “help” provided by these chemicals makes the link between their initial use and later, compulsive use, easy to follow.
Still, repeated exposures to a rewarding stimulus (like sex) can themselves set up behaviors that seem reinforced, but that are maladaptive (as in bad for them). The search for internal reinforcement through repeated sexual encounters, pursuits, and preoccupation would be the pattern common to many sex addicts.
By consistently making them feel better (sexual release results in more dopamine in the brain as well), a pattern develops that may lead certain individuals to seek the reward whenever they need reinforcement. Once such a pattern develops, the road to compulsion, is not too long. This is especially true for those who already have low impulse control, for whatever reason, as I discussed earlier.
Brian’s issue is certainly his need for ego reinforcement, and his brain has learned that the attention of a woman provides that in bulk. The problem is, as I’d pointed earlier, that many areas of his life, including his ego when he ends up not keeping up with other responsibilities, end up being damaged in the process.
This sets up the all too familiar cycle of ups and down common to many addicts. To those who know him, the fact that Brian’s priorities are “screwed-up” is no secret.
Brian at least recognizes his pattern now and perhaps, if the roller-coaster ride become too extreme, he may decide that it really is time to do something about it. One thing is certain, he recognizes that he is likely a sex addict.
In the meantime, the age of the internet has provided immediate access to sexual content, which makes relapse all to easy for sex addicts. I recommend putting a lock on your own computer that is controlled by someone else if that is part of your sexual addiction. Having someone to talk to that you feel comfortable enough to share urges when they do come up can be of great help too. This is where 12-step groups come in handy for most people. It’s hard to talk to most people about things we find shameful unless they too have had the same problems…
Question of the day:
If sex-addiction is your problem, what have you found can help you in best resisting the compulsive urges?
Schneider, J. P. (1991). How to recognize the signs of sexual addiction. Asking the right questions may uncover serious problems. Postgraduate Medicine – Sexual Addiction, VOL 90 (6).